The Ecuadorian government’s harsh attacks on trade union rights and the response by educators were put under the spotlight at the 2016 International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
The matter was raised by Rosana Palacios, President of Unión Nacional de Educadores (UNE)/Ecuador, who spoke on behalf of Education International (EI) at the ILC Committee on the Application of Standards. In a debate on Convention 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, she highlighted the government's attacks on trade union rights and how unions were responding to them.
“The union collected 70,000 signatures for a people's initiative to reform the Law on Education so as to ensure the right to freedom of association and due legal process,” she said. “Together with the public sector unions, we have drawn up proposals for reforms to the Law on Public Service so as to grant collective bargaining rights to all public employees. These proposals were presented to the National Assembly on 25 May.”
No collective bargaining
Palacios said that 150,000 public sector teachers in Ecuador do not have the right to bargain collectively. In 2009, the government withdrew check-off rights and refused to grant leave of absence to the union’s elected officials. Since 2013, the UNE’s new executive committee has not been registered, leading to the suspension of its bank account. Many union activists have been relocated to remote areas or dismissed on spurious legal grounds according to UNE.
She stated that the Ecuadorian government had failed to implement the recommendations of the ILO supervisory mechanisms and the technical mission that visited Ecuador in January 2015. Indeed, it had gone further by adopting Constitutional reforms in January 2016 which explicitly prohibit collective bargaining in the public sector.
Clash with authorities
The UNE had also been subjected to arbitrary fines, most notably on account of a radio programme, which called for a “mobilisation” against the Constitutional reforms. The Superintendent of Communications determined that the use of the word “mobilisation” was tantamount to calling for a military uprising. “How absurd is that?” Palacios asked the Commission. “But we had to ask our members to contribute to pay the fine because, if not, the government would have expropriated our trade union building in Quito. For the moment, we still have the offices but I wonder for how long?” she asked.
Ending her speech to applause from the Workers’ Group, she asked the Committee to support the UNE in its defence of trade union rights.